Return to 'black poetry planet'
Sept. 24-27, 2014, JMU hosts the largest...
Furious Flower presents Rita Dove, other legendary poets
With its national conference now less than a year away, the Furious Flower Poetry Center has announced the initial slate of poets who will be its special guests. The event is dedicated to Rita Dove, the youngest person to have held the post of Poet Laureate of the United States (1993–1995), and the first African American to bear the title. She’ll also be the youngest poet to have been honored this way by Furious Flower. In addition, the conference recognizes the achievements of literary trailblazers Toi Derricotte, Michael Harper, Yusef Komunyakaa, Marilyn Nelson, Ishmael Reed, and Quincy Troupe, Jr. with Lifetime Achievement Awards.
These legendary poets will attend panels, participate in sessions, and read their work, as will several others who have been invited because of their important contributions to the genre of African American poetry. Among the notable poets who will attend are Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Jericho Brown, Kwame Dawes, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Aracelis Girmay, Duriel Harris, Tyehimba Jess, Evie Shockley, and Frank X Walker.
Furious Flower executive director Dr. Joanne Gabbin remembers, “Twenty years ago, we dedicated the first conference, ‘A Revolution in African American Poetry,’ to Gwendolyn Brooks and spotlighted the powerful writings of the 1950s to the present. A decade later, we celebrated the poets of the 1960s Black Arts Movement and their effect on contemporary writers with ‘Regenerating the Black Poetic Tradition,’ dedicating that conference to Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez.”
Both Brooks and Baraka are now gone, but their influence extends to the generations of poets that follow. At the first conference in 1994, Dove acknowledged her literary debt to the Black Arts Movement, crediting it with preparing her audience to accept an African American poet who explored themes other than blackness. She also gave tribute to Brooks, to whom that year’s conference was dedicated, saying, “Standing in front of this literary congregation as a grown woman, a woman who has entered her forties, I feel very strange thinking that when Gwendolyn Brooks was awarded the 1950 Pulitzer Prize ... I was not even, as people used to say then, ‘a twinkle in my daddy’s eye.’ ”
In 1987, Dove was the second African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Appropriately, she serves as a bridge between the elders of black poetry, like Brooks, the vigor of the poets of the Black Arts Movement, and African American writers today.
This year’s event, happening Sept. 24–27 and dubbed Furious Flower’s “third decade-defining conference,” takes the next natural step with “Seeding the Future of African American Poetry.”
“We’re focusing on issues particularly important in the 21st century, including the globalization of black poetry, communication technology’s effects on poetic expression, and gender equality,” Gabbin explains. It will also highlight emerging voices in the genre, many of whom have been especially invited to bring their diverse work to the attention of scholars and writers in the field, and for the appreciation of everyone who attends their readings, all of which will be free and open to the public.